Developer: Arrowhead Games / Publisher: Paradox Interactive / ESRB: Teen (Blood and Gore, Language, Violence) / Played on: PC / Price: $9.99
Many RPGs start too slow. You use wooden sticks as weapons, scraps as armor, and hide from the most basic creature types until you can cast those crazy looking spells and effects the game promised. Magicka doesn’t put up with any of that nonsense and gives you all the mighty power of a wizard from the get-go. So what is a young wizard with mastery of fire, ice, earth, water, and other arcane elements to do when his kingdom is in danger? Kill stuff and have fun doing it, of course!
Goblins are attacking villagers! A mysterious sorcerer has been wreaking havoc on your kingdom! Pop culture references are everywhere! Magicka weaves a tale of a faceless wizard tasked by a devious leader to save the land from impending doom. Your journey takes you from common fantasy settings like lush forests and ice-filled caverns to pirate ships and mountainsides. Giants, trolls, goblins, and even vampires impede your path with their shenanigans. Perhaps this sounds generic and familiar? It is. Magicka isn’t so much about the deep, weaving story as it’s about pop culture references and fourth-wall breaking humor. The overarching story is by-the-books fantasy material, but the references to sci-fi and fantasy movies and video games give the story some personality. The opening cinematic alone is a cornucopia of pop culture quotes and jokes: The narrator asks you to “stay a while and listen,” as Deckard Cain asks of you in Diablo. He also mentions how you’ll encounter “Dungeons and Dragons, Orcs and Goblins, and Ghouls and Ghosts,” on your journey. NPCs will comment on how everything in the world is mysteriously locked. One NPC told me she’d give me a coin for my troubles but couldn’t because the game lacks an inventory system. The comedy isn’t a complete saving grace to a story that still falls flat, and is overshadowed by the gameplay and action. I enjoyed the quick quips and one-liners, but without a driving story behind it, Magicka feels bland as a narrative.
If you’ve ever felt magic systems were too limiting in other games, then get ready to let your creative side flourish. As the title suggests, magic is at the core of Magicka. From the beginning of the game you have eight schools of spells to cast: Water, Fire, Lightning, Earth, Cold, Shield, Arcane, and Life. Lightning allows you to emit electrical bolts from your staff, while Shield grants you a protective barrier for a short time. The real fun, and heart of the gameplay challenge, comes when you start to combine these elements. You can merge up to five elements to create devastating results. For example, combining Fire, Lightning, and Arcane results in a beam of electricity that ignites foes on contact. Certain elements can combine to make new elements, such as Water and Cold creating Ice, which can then be used in conjunction with other elements. The variety also extends to how you cast your spells: either as a beam or burst, an area of effect attack, or on yourself. Casting shield on yourself gives you an extra armor bonus, while casting it as an area spell encircles you with small barriers. I found myself experimenting with different combinations for a long time, finding which spells worked best or produced the coolest effect.
As mentioned before, Magicka has done away with many of the standard gameplay methods seen in other RPGs. There is no inventory, leveling system, or skill trees to upgrade. The focus is really on the magic and action instead of navigating pesky menus. You can find new staves and secondary weapons like daggers or swords, but they serve little purpose since you’re flinging magic almost entirely. Dying means starting a stage over from the last save point, and without a conventional way to save you’re left at the mercy of an auto-save system that doesn’t save nearly enough. I found myself restarting many a stage from the beginning when I had just died on a mini-boss. Magicka is not an easy game, but the challenge of each stage makes each victory rewarding.
One glaring flaw upon release was a multitude of bugs and glitches. Enemies got stuck in the scenery, opening the pause menu caused my game to crash, and casting certain spells slowed down my game significantly. Thankfully a majority of these bugs have already been fixed by a patch, but a handful remain that will hopefully get patched soon.
As fun as it is to blast goblins to a juicy, blood-soaked pulp, doing it with three other equally ruthless wizards is incredibly fun. Online co-op gets absolutely insane, with beams of energy, bursts of flames, and body parts of enemies flying all across the screen. You can tackle any of the story missions with your buds, or partake in the arena-like Challenge mode where you face wave after wave of enemies. Both options get crazy pretty quick, and you’ll need to rely on your teammates to complete each stage successfully. An in-game chat system can be used to communicate with teammates, but hasn’t been implemented well: oftentimes the action is so hot you don’t have time to enter a message. Lag can be an issue for some games, but others seem to run perfectly fine, so you’ll need to choose your host carefully. Multiplayer is how Magicka wants to be played, as the best moments come from the frenetic combat.
Being a master wizard isn’t easy, and as such learning how to play Magicka properly is just as difficult. The eight spell elements are mapped to different keys (D for Earth, A for Lightning, and so on), and you cast spells by pressing the desired key and then clicking the mouse. The fights are fast and you’ll definitely struggle to get the hang of pressing correct keys and clicking the mouse. After an hour or so with it you’ll figure it out and be rattling off complex spell combinations like the best of them. Movement is handled with the Left Mouse button, much like the Diablo PC games. Though it can be hard to get used to, Magicka handles well and rewards those who take the time to understand its complex controls.
Magicka has a lot to offer: A highly customizable magic system, light-hearted comedy that will please videogame and sci-fi fans (at least for a bit), and a multiplayer mode that is all about the action. The game’s not perfect though: a bevy of bugs, a forgettable story, and a severe learning curve for the controls hold it back. Even with its flaws, Magicka is fun and fresh, and offers a new experience for RPG fans.